Henry V | Chicago Reader

Henry V

Kenneth Branagh's superb 1989 version of the Shakespeare play, which he directed and adapted as well as stars in, is distinctly different from Laurence Olivier's 1944 movie. The earlier film was intended to whip up patriotic sentiment, but Branagh's version has a much darker view of England's defeat of France, more relevant in certain respects to World War I. (The climactic battle is muddy, gory, and marked by the looting of corpses, and after it's over, Henry's face is streaked with blood and grime like a Jackson Pollock painting.) Olivier's vantage point seems more that of the Renaissance, while Branagh's, like Orson Welles's in Chimes at Midnight (1966)—an obvious influence and reference point—is closer to the Middle Ages. The cast—including Derek Jacobi as the modern-dress chorus, Paul Scofield, Judi Dench, Ian Holm, Emma Thompson, and Robbie Coltrane in an effective cameo as Falstaff—is uniformly fine without any grandstanding. 137 min.


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